Divine Sovereignty & Human responsibility

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Introduction

IT should not be a matter for surprise that there are, in Scripture, apparent contradictions and incongruities. That which has its source in the Infinite Mind, must of necessity surpass the apprehension of the finite. God has said, 'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways' (Isa. 55. 8).  That is to say, His way of reasoning is different from ours. Consequently, apart from the instruction given by the Spirit of God, the harmony of the various doctrines of Holy Scripture with each other is not discernible. The revelation of God is such that He has thereby brought to nought the wisdom of the natural man (1 Cor. 1. 26-29).

The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is one of a number of such Bible antinomies concerning which Hammond has written: 'This term (antinomy) is applied (in theology) to what are, in effect, conflicting doctrines concerning the same subject. The limitations of the human mind sometimes render it impossible for us to approach nearer to truth than the statement of the two, apparently, opposing sets of ideas, the truth of both of which is capable of equal demonstration.'

Some of these antinomies are: the human and the divine in both the Living and the Written Word; the employment of fallible men in writing an infallible book; the regular functioning of natural laws and the occasional occurrence in nature" ordered system of miraculous events; the inflexible divine purpose and the human free will; temporal sin resulting in eternal punishment; election and universal grace; predestination and individual faith.

This should place the student of Scripture on his guard against being disturbed by any inability to reconcile with one another all the doctrines of Scripture.   There are many human ideas which are not the product of human reasoning, but operate in modification of it. We do not, for example, subscribe to the possibility of nothingness or conceive of a beginning from nothingness. Similarly, we can neither comprehend eternity nor understand that 'time should cease to flow.' We may speak of 'infinite space' but strictly the two words express contradictory ideas, though we may understand what is meant. In certain realms it is apparent, therefore, that reason is not adequate; help must be sought elsewhere. For example, in creation two apparently opposing forces are constantly in operation; namely, the centrifugal and centripetal forces, by means of which the heavenly bodies are kept in their courses. These forces are complementary and contribute to the harmonious operation of the universe. Though our reason may fail to comprehend the co-existence of two opposite forces working harmoniously together, yet the undeniable blending of the two opposing forces just mentioned provides evidence that the Creator is not Himself restricted by those limitations which He has imposed on His creatures. It is not surprising, then, that in other spheres, we discover the contemporaneous existence of other apparently contrary principles which work together in perfect unison.

Butler in his Analogy, says: 'I look into nature and Providence and I find certain things hard to be understood which can be explained on the assumption that there are in the entire scheme of God's vast issues and circumstances that are beyond my knowledge altogether and I have to accept things as they stand and wait for their solution. Now, supposing for a moment that the Author of the constitution of nature has become the Author of a written revelation, shall I not expect to find that in written revelation are some difficulties analogous to those which I find in the constitution of nature itself?’

As another has written: 'In the revelation of His ways we must be prepared for the phenomena which, at least at present, are to us absolute mysteries, for instance, for actions of His will as He is sovereign and as He is His own eternal end, and as He is infinite, which we cannot formally harmonize with His explicit assurances and proofs of power and universal Love.’

The believer can afford to wait for further light on the matter and yet another has said: 'Ultimately our human reason cannot solve the antinomy of the certainty which goes with divine sovereignty and the natural ability with which God has endowed man.  And again: 'Each principle must be faced by the issues involved and all the related principles, so that what we do not ‘understand may not be allowed to shake what we do.’ 

Recognizing such limitations, we approach the subject of this'Is it not lawful,' asked the householder, 'for me to do what I paper which 'is an outstanding case of the need for adhering to what Scripture actually states and for avoiding the temptation to construct a complete philosophic scheme.’

In order to facilitate the consideration of the sub weject will deal with it under the following chapters: Introduction; Plan of the Ages; Prophecy; Old Testament History; The Introduction of Sin; Election & Predestination; Man’s Free Will; Prayer and Summary


© Douglas Carr 2021